While it’s always fun to find a new trail, explore a place I haven’t been to, there’s a certain comfort in returning to a favorite walk every now and then. The Mass. Audubon sanctuary at Flat Rock in Fitchburg is one of those places. My family used to take walks and picnics there when I was young, long before it became a sanctuary.

A week or so ago I took the main trail that starts out behind the old Burbank Hospital. At some point in history this was meant to be a main road – there are culverts and ditches lined with stone. It’s on the east side of the hill and the woods are noticeably cooler there.

I was walking along thinking that not much has changed over the years. Then the clusters of red berries shown in the picture caught my eye. I’ve walked past that spot hundreds of times, and I’ve never seen them there before.

My first thought was it was a mountain ash. When we first moved this house in 1960, my father tried planting a mountain ash in the backyard. It didn’t make it. It’s too sunny and the soil is all wrong. When I looked at this sapling more closely, I realized it wasn’t a mountain ash, but a very similar tree, the red-berried elder.

Both trees are common farther north, but somewhat rare down here. There were two or three of these saplings fairly close to each other, but I didn’t see any others anywhere nearby. Which makes me wonder how they got there.